Skip to main content

Africa: Strengthening Parliaments in Africa

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the findings of the report Strengthening Parliaments in Africa: Improving Support prepared by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa.

The noble Lord said: As vice-chair of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group, I first acknowledge the support given to our inquiry into Strengthening Parliaments in Africa: Improving Support by the CPA UK Branch, with the help of DfID and the FCO country staff. I also acknowledge the help from local parliamentarians, who shared their insights and experiences with our team. I also thank AWEPA and other international organisations, which provided crucial assistance, and the Royal African Society for its ongoing support of the group.

In the UK and internationally, there is an increasing realisation that parliaments have a significant role to play in development. In DfID’s 2006 White Paper, for example, the UK committed to work more closely with parliamentarians in an effort to,

“put more support for good governance at the centre of what we do”.

Much of this new attention is focused on African parliaments, which have slowly begun to exert the new constitutional powers that have come with the transition away from dictatorships to multiparty politics. The picture varies greatly in practice, but interviews in Malawi and Kenya, for example, showed that parliament was no longer,

“a sub-branch of the executive”,

or a “department of the presidency”. An increasing majority of voters in Africa believe that the legislature should be independent of the Executive and that it is unacceptable for a President to bypass parliament to pass legislation. Gradually, parliaments are becoming more assertive in overseeing financial governance.

African parliaments face acute challenges. Many lack formal powers and agreed clear procedures. They lack institutional capacity. Parliaments, as opposed to governing Executives, lack basic facilities, resources and administrative and specialist support, needed to effectively hold the Executive to account. The reality of African parliaments reflects African politics, history and society. The events in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, since this inquiry was initiated in 2007, each in their way bear witness to the challenges still facing many African parliaments.

The group’s report, Strengthening Parliaments in Africa: Improving Support, looks at the difficulties encountered in African parliaments and at what the United Kingdom, through aid and other channels, is doing to address these difficulties. The aim is that the report will contribute to and inform current debates over the most effective approaches to parliamentary strengthening. The group was particularly keen to hear at first hand the views of counterpart parliamentarians and their staff in a selection of African countries. Members visited Malawi, Uganda and Kenya and, in addition, 20 submissions were received in response to our call for evidence. I place on record our thanks to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood for his participation in the inquiry and in due course, I hope, for his contribution to this debate. Further evidence came from members' discussions in South Africa on parliamentary strengthening, organised by World Bank affiliates, and at Westminster in collaboration with the ODI.

African parliaments are based on western parliaments and have similar roles. The social, cultural and political contexts in which they operate, however, are contrasting and varied. Informal patronage networks are very influential, coexisting with, overlapping with and sometimes conflicting with institutions and parliaments in the formal political sphere. Only two of Africa's 53 states, Botswana and Mauritius, have a record of unbroken multiparty democracy. In an environment of presidential regimes, one-party states and military rule, scrutiny of the Executive and representation of the electorate was rare.

Development partners have been slow to support parliaments in the democratisation revival that started in the 1990s. Appreciation of the significance of governance for development and poverty reduction is only gradually extending to the contribution of parliaments. Yet many donors, discouraged by mixed results of project-based support and conditional lending, are increasingly opting to transfer aid money directly to Governments of recipient countries. This direct budget support makes it essential that these funds are overseen by in-country institutions, such as parliaments.

Development partners are coming to recognise parliaments as allies in the monitoring of the use and impact of aid money as part of their overall role in the scrutiny of the use of public resources. African parliaments are increasingly becoming assertive institutions that have leverage over legislation, monitor and challenge the Executive and represent citizens’ views.

Although surveys show that there is widespread support across southern Africa for the parliaments’ legislative prerogative, deep-seated challenges remain. Not the least of these are: first, the rules, powers and arrangements that define parliament’s leverage; secondly, parliament’s resources and institutional capacity; and, thirdly, the relationship between parliament and international players.

A recurring theme in the material gathered by the Africa All-Party Group was the limited popular understanding of MPs’ responsibilities and powers. MPs were expected to deliver on solving a wide range of collective local problems and individual needs and bring development in health, education and water, while legislative and scrutiny responsibilities were hardly mentioned. The MPs’ functions in parliament such as legislation and holding the Executive to account were not seen as important. The financial independence of parliament is crucial in this regard. Submissions from Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi underlined that their parliaments were unable to determine and approve even their own budgets.

Our findings demonstrate that African parliaments have begun to exert greater influence on how their countries are governed, but that huge challenges remain. There is insufficient constitutional and other provisions. Problems with institutional capacity continue to constrain parliaments. Even if they enjoy robust powers on paper, the political realities inside and outside parliaments mean that they often fail to exercise effective scrutiny over Executives.

Our inquiry has resulted in close to 50 recommendations in five overarching groups. Broadly, the groups are that: first, development partners understand better the parliaments in their political context; secondly, they must engage in local demand and encourage broad-based ownership, pulled by local participants and not just pushed by the donors; thirdly, co-ordination is essential with development partners working in step with one another, because too many times there are too many partners stirring the broth, so to speak; fourthly, development partners need to learn from evidence-based lessons and apply those results; and fifthly and finally, greater account needs to be taken of parliament in development work, encouraging a full role and avoiding acts that would undermine or marginalise the parliaments that are supposedly being nurtured.

There is a dilemma. While some might say, or admit, that dictatorial Governments can sometimes bring real development to their people through sound policies, it should perhaps be a prerequisite for British development aid that the recipient Government are democratically elected through the expressed will of the people.

We were very pleased to receive DfID’s fulsome response to our report in the general sense. It points out that it has already commissioned studies on parliamentary strength. It acknowledges, however, that where a parliament has already been marginalised, there is little point in promoting parliamentary strengthening.

Where a dictatorial or even repressive Government fulfil DfID’s overall development criteria, it could be argued that development delivered now is jeopardised in the long term by the political instability created by this repression. DfID’s rejection of the proposal that it should present an annual report to the parliaments of recipient countries on the grounds that:

“Aid donors are accountable to the recipient governments who themselves have the responsibility to report to parliament”,

counts for little when the parliament is already marginalised.

In these instances there surely is a case for the Government to adopt a process similar to the extractive industries transparencies initiative—making public aid agreements, so as to enable parliamentarians, both here and in the recipient countries, to hold their Governments to account.

Finally, since the field work and evidence-taking and analysis began almost a year ago, there have been some significant changes in political development in several of the countries studied. I should be very grateful if the Minister could update noble Lords on the Government’s current position reflecting the outcome of perhaps the Kenyan and Zimbabwean elections and the situation in that regard.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the report. I declare an interest as the chair of the Royal African Society, which provides the secretariat to the All-Party Group.

This report is important in tackling engagement between citizens and their Governments and the role that parliaments can play in ensuring greater accountability and transparency. I am pleased that the Department for International Development has welcomed the five overarching recommendations. In the time available, I shall make some general comments about the progress of democracy building in Africa and, in particular, the equation of elections with democracy.

We have seen huge democratic gains in sub-Saharan Africa in the past two decades, although we still have too many leaders who have been there too long. Our recent focus has been on Zimbabwe, but there are other countries too. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation governance index for 2000 showed that 24 elections in 48 African countries were judged not free and fair. By 2005, that figure had dropped to 15. In 2000, six African countries passed the free and fair criteria; that figure rose to eight by 2005. That is slow progress, but it is movement in the right direction.

For me, democracy is not just about elections, although they are important. It is about accountability and transparency, citizens feeling that they have a right to have a say and to be heard, and Members of Parliament holding their Governments to account and putting the interests of the electors first. That requires maturity and stability. Too often, we have seen the effect of the lack of political stability and basic rights in African countries where political breakdown has been followed by conflict and insecurity. Greater stability and participation are achievable through multiparty democracy, but it will take time to take root and mistakes will be made. Strengthening parliamentary democracy and improving parliamentary scrutiny is crucial to the process of building confidence in political processes.

I agree with the thrust of the argument in the report that it is essential to understand the politics of African countries in order to work with them for sustainable development. Local ownership is essential. It is not just about what donor Governments want. One of the potential problems with the development aid agenda is the focus on Government-to-Government relations. Some African Governments see themselves as being more accountable to donors than to their own people because, through the process of accountability to donor Governments, they know that they will receive aid. It is vital that African parliamentarians and civil society play a greater role. This can partly be achieved through greater transparency in the relationship between donors and recipient Governments, but we also need consultation between donors and recipient Governments and their citizens as well as with business and NGOs. There is an opportunity at the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Ghana in September to explore these issues in more detail and, in particular, to look at the need for better analysis and co-ordination between donor and recipient Governments and other actors. This report gives important insight into what needs to be done, and I hope that all of us, including my Government, treat the recommendations with the seriousness they deserve.

I read the report of the All-Party Group on Strengthening Parliaments in Africa with great interest and respect. I had intended to discuss many issues, but there is not time. However, I was struck particularly by DfID’s recognition that:

“Bringing politics squarely into the aid equation takes many development professionals outside their zones of comfort. It also takes us to the outer edges of what some development agencies are equipped, even mandated, to do”.

Parliaments are not aid projects; they are important political entities, especially in fragile states, and I hope that one result of this admirable report will be much greater FCO involvement through our missions abroad, which are best placed to provide an analysis of the political terrain. We should not rely too much on the UNDP, which has its own political agenda. That is particularly true in the case of Zimbabwe for reasons beyond DfID’s control.

However, what is happening to parliamentary government in Zimbabwe is both relevant and urgent. Parliamentarians everywhere must surely do whatever they can—I think that we all agree on this—to protect the MDC MPs who were duly elected in March this year and should be taking their seats today. That includes the handful of MPs elected in the rerun last month despite the violence and intimidation recognised and condemned by all the observer missions—the AU mission, the Pan-African Parliament election observer mission and the SADC mission. No date has been announced for Parliament to sit. At present, one MDC MP is in hospital fighting for his life after a beating on 29 June, two are in jail, one has been abducted and is missing, seven have fled to South Africa, and an unknown number are in hiding in Zimbabwe. One is to be “dealt with” immediately on release. His lawyer is therefore not applying for bail: he is safer in prison. I say nothing of the many MDC supporters and electors, including some of my age, who have been terribly beaten, imprisoned and refused medical treatment in prison.

Mugabe is ensuring a ZANU-PF majority by delaying the swearing-in of MPs until he can wipe out the MDC majority by abducting, arresting, detaining and hospitalising enough MDC MPs to ensure it. Some 10 MDC/Tsvangirai MPs have been arrested in recent weeks and seven more are said to be on a police “wanted” list. Mugabe is also able to pack the Senate. Finally, under Zimbabwe law, any parliamentarian can be dismissed for failing to attend for two days.

Cannot the group urge the parliaments in Africa with which it has many links to make representations through their Governments and Commonwealth Governments to protect the MPs of Zimbabwe and enable them, elected as they were by the people despite every threat during the elections, to enter Parliament and represent those who have no other voice? Some will say that for us to do this is to play into Mugabe’s hands, because he can say that the MPs now being prevented taking their seats are British puppets or that we should not speak for them. We should not allow him to set the agenda. We did not take that view when we spoke out for Hungary in 1956. No one thought that the ANC in South Africa was a British puppet when we spoke for it in the Commonwealth and in rallies everywhere. We should not allow Mugabe to call the tune. We should speak out against oppression. Those MPs risked their lives to stand and be elected, and the people risked theirs in electing them. If we believe in parliamentary government, we should urge all parliamentarians everywhere to do all they can to protect the MPs in Zimbabwe, and the world should condemn the tyrant.

I was in the Congo in 1960 when the new African Government assembled their first parliament. I remember the delegations from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya bringing ceremonial gifts. Lumumba’s Ministers had to take office in a country where the Belgians had left no professional infrastructure, civil servants, lawyers or doctors. They had none of the skilled professional indigenous infrastructure and civil society which Zimbabwe has had. The Congo has never recovered from that bad beginning. It is cruel that that infrastructure in Zimbabwe is being wasted by a reversion to what the report called “big man” politics—to dictatorship, in fact. Kenya, Uganda and Malawi have in their different ways solved their problems. Zimbabwe could be restored very quickly to a viable free society if the people whom it elected with such courage could be enabled to exercise their powers of governance legitimately. It is in any case impossible to think how any of the proposals for a political solution to the crisis by negotiation can be effected if those whom the people have chosen to represent them are excluded from the process.

I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, the All-Party Group and the Royal African Society on the constructive tone of the report. I strongly support this initiative as someone who has tended to see democracy through the prism of NGOs. This report should reinforce HMG’s new country-governance analysis, which, rather surprisingly, has tended to neglect parliaments up till now, as he said. The donor’s relationship has also largely been with the Executive, but that is now changing.

The report is inevitably UK-centred and I feel that the African dimension still needs strengthening, although there are good case studies. I have long been wary of spreading Westminster democracy for its own sake. Political philosophy from Machiavelli suggests that a form of tyranny can be appropriate in pulling up a failing state. Examples abound in Africa. I pass over Zimbabwe but where would Uganda be without President Museveni? This is one President we do not seem to mind re-electing himself three times.

We tend to become oversentimental about the Westminster model, and I think that the report agrees in recommendation 6. I expect the CPA manual, which I have not seen, to have dos and don’ts such as “Try not to lose your temper”, “Don’t strike an MP from another party, only from your own”, and “Where possible, do not fire guns or attempt to blow up parliament”. These things happen every now and then, and they have happened here. I have visited the Mozambican, Ugandan and, briefly, South African parliaments and have been impressed by their procedures. Some of them are copied. The Ugandan Parliament website shows some remarkable similarities to our own. I clicked on Hansard and found a debate on the inadequacy of the sickle cell anaemia unit in Mulago Hospital, with the PM responding directly to a petition. The Speaker had an endearing quality of engaging directly in the debate, as well as seeking clarification. Our Speaker in another place would enjoy that.

Four of our Clerks have attended parliamentary seminars in Africa based on an exchange of experience and skills, and Edward Ollard says that these are not one-way exercises. The South African Parliament, for example, is keen on outreach to the people and consultative exercises, such as have been advocated here by the Hansard Society.

I agree with much that the report says about the bypassing and even undermining of Governments by development partners, including indigenous NGOs. This is a fact of life in a developing country. NGOs will follow all options that help the poor, knowing that things often do not get done through parliament but by a combination of influences in and outside government. Parliaments must be strengthened but we can expect only gradual change. What happened to NePAD, which is now seven years old? Parliaments were once seen as a vital means of implementing the NePAD peer-review mechanism. Clearly, it is now on the back burner.

My CPA visit to the Mozambican parliament in 2002, led by Andrew Pearson, included a fascinating session with MPs. I congratulate the CPA on all such visits and on involving NGOs as fully as possible in meetings so that MPs and civil society can see that they are mutually valued.

In a post-conflict state, it is hardly surprising that fighters recently turned MPs should still distrust one another, and visitors sometimes help to restore confidence. All noble Lords will know of the partnership between the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and DfID in the important work of strengthening the capacity of parliaments in Africa. There is now to be a special focus on the training of trainers in Uganda and Mozambique, and there will be a university link through a parliamentary study centre. The foundation aims to work closely with individual parties and is naturally uneasy with the situation in some countries where there is a tendency towards one dominant party.

In Mozambique, Frelimo has been so powerful that I remember embassies and donors almost trying to nurse the Renamo MPs into a stronger role, in spite of the bloodthirsty reputation that they still carried from the civil war. The same will be true of northern Uganda if and when the LRA ex-combatants try to stand for elections. Opposition parties are still weak. Let us not forget that when Museveni’s main rival, Kizza Besigye, returned to Uganda from exile to run for the presidency, he was arrested and charged with rape and treason, and was later snatched from a courtroom at gunpoint. The world just watched.

Finally, Sierra Leone is another post-conflict case where a lot of quiet cajoling and encouraging has helped to restore the democratic processes. All those in DfID and other organisations deserve congratulations, for the new Administration is frail and continues to need support in its efforts to secure democracy, attract investment and restore confidence in the economy.

I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on initiating the debate. I also congratulate the All-Party Group on this valuable and timely report, in which it took advice from real African experts from the ODI, the NDI and, particularly, the Royal African Society. It is timely, as the recommendations are in tune with the new government policy of recognising the importance of good governance in avoiding waste and misdirection of development aid.

Kenya is a good example of where the politics have destroyed much of the good development that has been done—at least, in part. Traditionally in Africa there has been a lack of questioning of autocrats, even before some countries descended into the Bokassa or Amin regimes. I was pleased with the government response of a litany of the phrase “We agree” to the various recommendations. I am impressed with the belated DfID White Paper of 2006, Governance, Development and Development Politics, which drew on the valuable ODI report commissioned in February.

DfID has traditionally been wary of politics and parliaments. Its aim was to train specialists in the executive branch: tax inspectors and so on. It essentially worked only with departments. The Foreign Office has in many ways been slightly better equipped in reporting on parliaments, but it has its own drawbacks. It has relatively few African specialists, and its personnel tend to spend two-thirds of their careers aboard and are often out of touch with what happens in our own Parliament because there is a relatively limited interface with it.

Both DfID and FCO officials need increased training on parliaments, and that is not touched on in the report. Perhaps there is a contradiction, in that DfID has more money to disburse as a result of moving towards the 0.7 per cent target, whereas another arm of government policy is reducing the number of officials to monitor that. As a result of the reduction in DfID officials, the onus is on parliaments to make those officials accountable. I note that recommendation 34 encourages DfID to progress the idea of producing guidance for country officers. Country officers including a portion of their reports on the dibursing of aid might well be a useful tool for African parliaments in holding their Executives to account.

Recommendation 12 stresses that the FCO and DfID should recognise that political parties are a vital component of a democracy and should encourage their development separate from the tribe, region or the “big man”. I shall not go into detail but there is an excellent case study in Sierra Leone, where DfID passed £400,000 to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to train the various parties nationally. I understand that they even had an “Any Questions”-style session, where the parties had to say what they would do if they were in government; they even trained President Kabbah’s party on adjusting to a time out of office before its defeat.

Recommendation 3 on co-ordination is vital. There are many other players on the field. I have had the honour of being in Somaliland with AWEPA with money from the European Union; of being in Togo with the Parliamentarians for Global Action; and of working with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Ghana. We should seek to co-ordinate the work being done, which was perhaps insufficiently covered in the report. I also had the honour of doing some election monitoring for the IPU and CPA. It is also important to work with France. President Sarkozy has given a clear signal that he wishes to work with us.

My final point is that we are not starting from zero. Much work has already been done in the field. I stress the valuable work done by the CPA in Malawi, for example, where all the parliamentarians were defeated in one election. I was there with others running a seminar. The CPA runs seminars on governance, including a very helpful one in June this year on international parliamentary governance. They include clerks, which is very important not only for Commonwealth countries but for Rwanda, as well as inward and outward delegations. Most significant is its membership of the new Westminster Consortium, which was awarded £5 million over five years from DfID’s transparency fund for a sustained intervention, rather than brief encounters, in the countries selected. I welcome these bold initiatives. In brief, the CPA and others are there already. This is a valuable report and I hope that it will reinforce valuable change.

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. I will refer back to his contribution in a moment. First, I join in the congratulations to my noble friend Lord Chidgey on initiating this very useful debate.

My mind goes back to when I first entered Parliament in the mid-1960s. It was the era of transition from colonialism to independence. My noble friend Lord Anderson will remember that in those days a lot of people in the House of Commons knew about Africa. They were either in the Movement for Colonial Freedom and tended to be on the Labour side, or they were in commerce or agriculture and sat largely on the Conservative side. A lot of people had an interest in Africa. Gradually that faded away as the years went by. As my noble friend Lord Anderson will remember, we reached a point where very few knew anything about Africa or took any interest. We used to scrabble around to get names on Early Day Motions, and it was the usual suspects—him, me and about four or five others.

I am very glad to say—and this is the point I want to make—that the situation has now completely changed again. The All-Party Group—ably chaired by Hugh Bayley, the Member for York—which produced this report, has a large number of supporters in both Houses of Parliament. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, how much we appreciate the support that the Royal African Society gives to that group. It makes a tremendous difference to the impact it has on this Parliament and the interest that we now again take in Africa.

There are 46 recommendations, but in a short speech of five minutes I propose to deal with just one. It is the one that has already been mentioned, recommendation 12. I quote it exactly:

“The importance of political parties to the strength of parliament was a consistent and acutely felt concern throughout this inquiry. DFID should consider working with organisations, such as leading political party institutes/foundations as well as International IDEA, to support the development of political parties”.

In my experience, this is basically the weakness of the parliamentary institutions in Africa. The party-political system has not developed properly, and we need to do a lot more to encourage it. I agree with my noble friend Lord Anderson: we cannot expect FCO officials, or even DfID officials, to be expert in political matters. That is why the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is crucial. It could do with a bigger budget, and it could do with giving a bigger budget to the political parties in this country to enable them to nurture sister parties. Let us be blunt: the political parties in this country—all of them—are naturally using most of their resources for their own purposes. The amount that they put aside for international work is, in each case, relatively limited. Therefore any support that can be given to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is to be welcomed.

Too many of the political parties in Africa are either personal fiefdoms of an individual or tribal institutions. We really must get away from that. A lot of work needs to be done. I was a founding board member of International IDEA. It was set up largely on the initiative of the Swedish parliament. It is scandalous—and I say this to the Minister with great respect—that the previous Government decided not to be a member of International IDEA. That was a terrible shame. I hope that this Government will eventually join the institution and help it to develop an international concept of standards of democracy. By producing an annual audit on corruption, institutions such as Transparency International have helped to put pressure on that issue, just as Amnesty International has kept up pressure on human rights. However, we have no international democracy audit, and it is time we did so that we can range through the effectiveness of African parliaments—indeed, the parliaments of the whole world. That could be done if a body such as International IDEA had more resources to produce a democracy audit. That would help to increase the pressure for political parties and parliaments to be much more effective.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that we have exported some of the appurtenances of Parliament—the wigs and the gowns are there in Zimbabwe—but not, sadly, the basis of democracy. A few years ago, the high commissioner in Lesotho, who happened to be a Scotsman—there is a little bit of prejudice here—thought, rightly, that the Scottish Parliament was a better format than the Westminster Parliament for a country such as Lesotho, which was moving from a single-party to a multiparty system. He asked me to go out and conduct a series of seminars, which I did. I made some recommendations, which were followed, to get away from the imposition of opposing Benches, which is not really appropriate in struggling democracies. I think the Scottish model could be followed elsewhere. My plea is to look carefully at recommendation 12, and I urge the Government to implement it fully.

I join in the congratulations that have been expressed to my noble friend and his colleagues in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa on attracting such a star cast to this debate on what is in some ways a rather depressing report. It highlights the weakness of parliaments in almost every African country, although its three examples are by no means the worst. Parliaments exist on paper in many states without making any practical impact on governance or on the scrutiny of the Executive. The report might have focused more on the connection between authoritarian presidential constitutions and systems of government and the absence of effective parliaments. It does not mention Zimbabwe, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, where Mugabe has ruined the Parliament, or Sudan, where, under the comprehensive peace agreement, the National Assembly is an entirely appointed body.

I was particularly interested in the recommendation that a biannual report of the state of parliaments should be produced. From the references, it seems that UNDP would be the right body to initiate the project, initially defining the benchmarks, norms and standards to be used in assessing performance with the aid of the CPA and the IPU, and possibly the SADC parliamentary forum.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned NePAD's African peer review mechanism, which includes democracy and good political governance in its remit, but only 26 of the 42 AU states participate in the APRM, and it is a desultory process that produces very few reports. In the case of Ghana, which probably has one of the best parliamentary systems in Africa, the APRM was nevertheless told that Parliament is neither effective nor independent of the Executive branch. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government still think of NePAD as the best mechanism for promoting effective parliaments, which is one of the goals of objective 4 of the APRM?

One of the witnesses told the APPG that strengthening parliaments is not simply an issue of capacity, and the report quotes former DfID Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, as suggesting that we should try to work to the plans of a country's people. However, the Government's plans may not accord with the wishes of the people in the absence of free and fair elections. In Cameroon, for example, rigged elections have allowed President Biya to stay in power since 1982, and the tame parliament has recently passed a resolution allowing him to stand for yet another seven-year term in 2010. If he is re-elected, that will allow him to remain in office until the age of 85. How does the Paris declaration on aid effectiveness, which is seen by DfID as needing to be applied more rigorously to parliamentary strengthening work, apply in that situation?

One criticism of the aid programmes in this area, which has been mentioned by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is familiar. It is that multiple development partners with multiple fund management mechanisms overload the recipients. Are we certain that even within our own agencies, and more widely among our EU partners, there is well managed co-ordination, so that all are working to a common strategy? Should there be a formal mechanism for developing common strategies and minimising the burden on African parliaments of dealing with a great many donors with different agendas?

I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating this debate. I read with interest the report, which suggests a number of recommendations aimed at improving the effectiveness of African parliaments in their role of representing their people by holding the Executive to account.

On a continent with an unfortunate history of strong leaders or “big men”, I applaud efforts to encourage the confidence of legislatures and the proficiency of parliaments. The report makes recommendations which encourage an unobtrusive form of engagement, so that parliaments in Africa feel that they are “pulling in” changes rather than having them pushed by outsiders, and that development partners learn lessons from evidence and information that they have gathered. That seems sensible to us.

We were, however, disappointed by the Government’s response to the report. They have agreed in the most general way with its recommendations, but while there is plenty of dense jargon, there are rather fewer hard, cold facts. For example, we are told that,

“in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are contributing £62 million to a five year multi-donor governance programme, led by the UNDP, which includes a DFID contribution of £5.8 million to a £10 million parliaments and political parties strengthening component”.

That sounds very worthy, but what does it mean? Where exactly is the money going? In that example, where is the other £56.8 million going? What outcome is expected and by what measure will it be judged a success or failure?

As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, we would like the Government to be much clearer about how this multi-million pound budget is being spent. How is DfID’s outlay for strengthening parliaments in Africa audited? It is one thing to say that it may be a long process—I accept that there will be no immediate result and that our aim is to build up parliaments over time so that they can learn to exercise their roles by evolving their own distinctive legislative personalities—but there must be some way of assessing whether we are spending taxpayers’ money wisely. What outcomes are being tracked? In which countries does the tracking take place, and what exactly is being tracked to assess those outcomes? Will the Minister tell the Committee whether DfID helps to establish transparency within the parliaments which receive direct funding? As well as allowing us to follow as accurately as possible where our money is going, I hope that such a scheme, if presented sensitively, would help engender a culture of accountability and probity in countries where elected office is sadly sometimes regarded as a path to riches.

I am not criticising the goal of strengthening parliaments—quite the opposite. I hope that by building up contacts and support we will be able to achieve a lasting improvement in those institutions. I had the pleasure of the company of His Excellency the Ambassador of Senegal this week. I was very interested to hear that Senegal, one of the most stable, prosperous and democratic countries in West Africa, spends 40 per cent of its GDP on education and has recently added an upper House to its parliament.

In east Africa, there are examples of aid towards education through the Aga Khan Development Network and grants made to civil society organisations. They monitor their own spending very rigorously. If private organisations are able to do that, one might hope that government can follow suit and be much clearer on where and how money is being spent.

Are funds being diverted from embassies towards DfID? The United Kingdom has no direct representation in 23 of the 53 African states. In a Westminster Hall debate on 20 May, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, was quoted as saying that the Government were,

“trying to grow our diplomatic footprint in Africa”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/5/08; col. 55WH.]

Will the Minister indicate how those efforts are coming along?

One country which has expanded its footprint in Africa is China. It appears that it is interested more in trade than aid and is less likely to champion parliamentary democracy in those countries where it is expanding its influence. Is the Minister at all concerned that the softly-softly approach espoused by DfID may get drowned out by the din of Chinese construction teams building roads from mines to ports across Africa? I am not suggesting that we are in any competition for influence with the Chinese, but it is another reason why I would like to be reassured about the efficiency of the schemes that we are supporting.

In February, my colleague, Andrew Mitchell MP, called for 5 per cent of Britain’s budgetary support for developing countries to be earmarked for tracking where our development money is going. Does the Minister support devoting just a small amount to safeguard our overall investment?

I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for raising this important subject today. The Government very much welcomed the report that he and his distinguished colleagues on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa prepared. We congratulate them on that report. The star cast that we have in Grand Committee in the Moses Room this afternoon is worth much more than a rather hurried one-hour debate on this subject. Although noble Lords have been fantastically self-disciplined in keeping to their small five-minute blocks, I will have to be pretty disciplined to keep to the 12 minutes that I am permitted and will not be able to answer all the valid points asked of me by various noble Lords. However, I shall do my best to explain to the Committee where the Government stand on this important issue.

First, we believe that this is exactly the right time to discuss parliaments in Africa. Nine out of 10 Africans say they want to live in a democracy. According to Freedom House, half of the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa may now be classed as democracies. I heard, of course, what my noble friend Lady Amos said about elections. However, frankly, all is not well. The ongoing situation in Zimbabwe, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, concentrated, has shown starkly that the trappings of democracy are not enough. Election results must reflect the will of the people, and robust institutions must represent citizens and provide a check on how power is exercised.

I hope that our position on Zimbabwe is absolutely clear. We condemn the violence and do not recognise the outcome of the second round of the sham presidential election. We call for a new transitional Government who reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people as shown on 29 March, and we call on all members of the international community to work towards the restoration of democracy in that country.

Parliaments must be able to play a full role in democratic governance. Where they need it, the UK should support parliaments. We have made many significant investments; for example, since 2001 we have provided nearly £4.5 million to the Malawian Parliament in support of its five-year strategic plan. African parliaments are holding their executives to account, in high-profile ways, such as in Tanzania, where the Prime Minister resigned because of parliamentary pressure over corruption allegations, and in smaller, everyday ways, such as in Zambia, where in 2007 the Government withdrew an unsuitable Bill on NGOs at parliament’s request. We want to see more of this, and will continue to invest in strengthening the institutions that make this possible. The question is how best we can do that, and it is to that matter that noble Lords have set their minds today.

The report makes some helpful recommendations. It emphasises the need to base support on a thorough understanding of the political context, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, can be very varied. It mentions the importance of broad-based local ownership and the need for donor co-ordination. It highlights the need to use evidence, learn and share lessons, assess parliamentary performance and evaluate the impact of our support. It urges donors not to marginalise parliaments, but to encourage them to play a full part in development relationships.

Of course, it is almost a statement of the obvious that parliaments are inherently political, as the report clearly points out, and as Members of this House are well aware, whether or not they were Members of another place earlier in their career. Recent events in Africa have reinforced the group’s observation about the importance of the wider political context. We should base our work on an analysis of the political context and focus our efforts accordingly. For example, where a parliament is unable to exercise a check on the Executive, we should encourage the development of civil society and political parties.

However, where parliament plays an important role, or has the potential to do so, support can be beneficial if it is designed to suit the political context. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, through its network of posts around Africa, makes it its business to understand the political context in individual African countries. DfID’s country governance analysis is helping to improve its understanding of political contexts and to identify where we can support democratisation. FCO political expertise feeds into that process as well.

Understanding the political context also means focusing on how parliaments engage with their public and civil society. In Nigeria, we helped set up a civil society office at the Nigerian Parliament to improve interaction between parliament and civil society. Increasingly, the UK’s support to parliaments is through integrated programmes to promote accountability more broadly. For example, our Deepening Democracy programmes in Uganda, Malawi and the DRC support a range of oversight and accountability institutions to help provide the checks and balances vital for democracy. Wherever DfID missions are present in Africa, we encourage joint political reporting from the head of mission and the head of the DfID office and close co-operation on political and developmental issues. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have committed £62 million over a five-year period for strengthening democracy and government accountability, including support to the legislatures, political parties and the electoral commission.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary recently said that democracy has to be “home-grown”. Our experience here in Westminster may be valuable, but that does not mean that it can be transferred elsewhere. That is in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was talking about when he supported recommendation 12 of the report. When we support parliaments, we look to the parliament itself for direction. In Malawi, Uganda and Zambia, we have rooted our support in the parliaments’ own strategic plans. We have learnt that our assistance achieves more if it is based on demand from parliamentarians themselves.

Donor co-ordination has been referred to. Many of our projects are carried out jointly with other donors and other organisations. We have recently awarded £5 million over five years to the Westminster Consortium for Parliaments and Democracy, a joint venture between the much-praised Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Overseas Office of the House of Commons, the National Audit Office and the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The consortium will support a range of demand-led strategies for strengthening parliaments.

DfID is at the forefront of donor co-ordination on support to parliaments. With partners, we are holding a conference in October at Wilton Park on parliamentary strengthening. DfID will then host a meeting of the donor co-ordination group on parliamentary development to discuss how to strengthen collaboration and increase impact. We agree with the All-Party Group that it is important to assess the effectiveness of our support to parliaments. We are helping to fund the Africa Legislatures Project, which aims to enhance understanding of the ability of 18 case-study legislatures to represent the people, make laws and oversee the Executive. We think that this will also help us to develop a better basis for evaluating the impact of parliamentary strengthening programmes and deciding where such programmes are most needed.

Development assistance should not undermine the role of parliaments but should seek, where appropriate, to strengthen it. Managing development assistance is, for the most part, the responsibility of the Executive. Parliament’s role is to hold that Executive accountable. We believe that it is better to strengthen such domestic accountability arrangements rather than to establish special arrangements for donors to report directly to parliaments. That is where I think we disagree with one of the report’s recommendations.

Our direct budget support already provides a basis for parliamentary scrutiny: it forms part of the country’s government budget, which should be approved by Parliament and subsequently reported on. Where we provide direct budget support, we generally also support public financial management. In Zambia, DfID gives budget support and acts as lead donor for support to the parliament and for a financial management programme, which involves the Public Accounts Committee.

This has been an excellent, if too short, debate, covering many important issues. If I try to deal with the questions that have been asked, that will take me, and the debate, much over the allotted time.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, raised a point about democratic Governments and aid to those Governments. We do not believe that we should confine aid to countries with democratic Governments because, frankly, poor people are not confined to such countries, and a lot of poor people live in countries with poor Governments. Therefore, although it is not easy, we have to see how we can best make an impact, despite the problems. Where a Government are simply not committed to helping their own citizens, we will still use our aid to help poor people and promote better governance, but we will do so by working outside government with the civil societies and with international agencies such as the UN.

DfID’s policy is to make information on conditions attaching to individual programmes available on its website. Putting this into practice requires changes to DfID’s system, and we are working to introduce those changes. As to making public our aid agreements, I am advised that under the Freedom of Information Act a request could be made by a member of a foreign parliament for information from DfID on conditions attaching to budget support or other aid programmes.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised the issue of Uganda, where corruption, weak accountability across government and a lack of respect for the independence of the judiciary all need to be addressed. We want to continue working with that Government to ensure that those do not become problematic issues, and through our aid programme, we are helping to establish the institutions required to fight corruption.

I have not answered other questions. My time has run out, so, if it is acceptable to the Committee, I shall write with answers to the various points that I have been asked during the debate. I end by saying that the success, or otherwise, of the democratic process in Africa captures the attention of a watching world. A point made well by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was that in Parliament Africa is now once again very high up on the interest list of many Members of another place and, clearly from this debate, of this House as well.

In Zimbabwe and Kenya—the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and I were guests at a lunch held by the Lord Speaker for Kenyan parliamentarians just a few weeks ago—we have seen what happens when things go badly wrong. We have seen that African citizens are not willing to tolerate rigged elections and authoritarian rule. That is why we include support for democracy in UK international development programmes. Elections are one part of that democratic process but, for a functioning democracy—as perhaps we know in this country too—states need structures and institutions that hold Governments accountable not just some of the time, but all the time. Parliaments are vital in this, and our support can help them to fulfil their role. Once again, I thank the All-Party Group for producing such an excellent report.